Planetary Science Undergraduate Programs

Overview of a Planetary Science Undergraduate Degree Program

Undergraduate programs with degrees in planetary science can be found at several universities throughout the country. This degree plan will have a variety of planetary research and courses designed to aid in the understanding of space sciences, life sciences, chemistry and biochemistry. Below are some vital details for prospective students about the degree requirements as well as information about admissions and career options after completing the degree.

Admissions Requirements for a Planetary Science Degree

Incoming freshmen applying to a college that contains a planetary science program will need to submit their high school transcripts, diploma or a GED score. Most colleges also require letters of recommendation and college essays. In entering a planetary science program, students may be required to earn certain minimum scores on advanced math and science courses in high school. Prospective planetary science pupils will need to also submit their SAT or ACT results, and they should also check with the school's admissions office to find out if minimum scores on those tests are required as well.

Planetary Science Degree Program Coursework

Undergraduate degree programs in planetary science will include courses in planet geology, physics and geophysics. Other coursework might include thermodynamics, quantum mechanics and orbital mechanics. The following is a selection of courses commonly found in this undergraduate degree program:


Students in a planetary science program with have to take calculus classes and be introduced to differential and integral calculus and transcendental functions. They will also be expected to study the principles of vectors, integration, and surfaces. Calculus studies include work on functions and graphs, chain rule, limits and continuity as well as derivatives of algebraic and trigonometric functions.


Students in this program need a basic knowledge of chemistry through general classes in which they will be exposed to stoichiometry, periodic properties, molecular geometry and atomic structure. Students will spend time in chemistry labs working with gases, liquids and solids, chemical kinetics and oxidation-reduction reactions.


Thermodynamics in this field deals with energy and our atmosphere. Students will look at areas like dry and moist air, air mass determination, adiabatic and pseudo-adiabatic processes and hydrostatic stability. Thermodynamics dealing with temperature, entropy, kinetic theory and waves will be stressed. Discussions will also follow up on the various functions of Boltzmann, Fermi-Dirac and Bose-Einstein statistics and partitions.


Atmospheric studies center on the atmosphere of our planet and the effects placed on it by various stimuli. Students will be introduced to concepts dealing with climate change, solar variability, radiation effects, weather changes, air masses, hurricanes and tornadoes and their atmospheric effects. Also presented will be the various roles of water in energy, mass conservation and energy balances in thermodynamics.


Astrophysics deals with the physics of the planetary systems including solar and extra-solar, star and planet formations, and radioactive dating. Students will learn about the radiation reaction with matter, planet interiors, atmospheres, tides and magnetospheres. Also students will be introduced to subjects such as stellar evolution, star formation, stellar endpoints and variable stars.

How to Choose a Degree Program in Planetary Science

Prospective students following a planetary science undergraduate degree program might consider the location of the university in conjunction with any planetary research institutes nearby. Some students might look at the obvious lab work that will be required and the school's lab reputation. Others might want to consider possible internships opportunities and/or which kind of graduate programs may be available.

Career Options with a Planetary Science Degree

Students with an undergraduate degree in planetary science will often find work in the general areas of Earth science or space science. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that job opportunities for atmospheric scientists including meteorologists, for example, will grow by 12% from 2016-2026, and states that the median salary for atmospheric scientists in 2016 was $92,460. Other interesting career information can be found using the following links for anyone who's obtained a degree in planetary science.

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